Friday, April 18, 2008

Food in the Seminary Library

A beautiful Friday in Chicagoland with warm breezes and vigilant geese staking out their patch of library turf seems like a good day to blog about one of the lighter aspects of library life: food in the library.

The Chronicle has posted an article about the more relaxed attitude toward food that typifies the hip, turn-of-the-century academic library. "[Morningside] College has joined those that are casting aside their libraries' stuffy images by allowing students and faculty members to chow down — the "no food allowed" signs and wagging fingers are gone — amid the books and computers."

We have done the same at our library. Two years ago, We replaced our "No Food Or Drink Allowed" signs with signs that say "Please Keep Drinks In Covered Containers". We included helpful images of travel mugs lest students become confused and decide that a keg is also a covered container. (Those zany German Baptists!) Our food policy is basically a "don't ask, don't tell" policy--the sign only says to keep your drink in a covered container. A sandwich, a candy bar, a McBag supper are not uncommon sights now in a student study carrel. An entire pizza is possible, though apt to draw freeloaders. We did have a study room completely redecorated once for--I am not making this up--a marriage proposal that I believe also included celebratory snacks. (And this was before the kinder, gentler food policy.)

Students do appreciate the new policy. Previously, some students would stand out in the hallway to scarf their food before entering the library (a good sign of a future associate or executive pastor); others would stop at the desk and ask if we minded if they brought a bag of M&Ms into the library (the future senior pastors); others would just camouflage their latté and bagel underneath a folded jacket and head straight for the study carrels in the lower level (future youth pastors). Now everything is above-board, no slinking required. (Though the current issue of YouthWorker is still apt to turn up missing.)

There really hasn't been a down-side to the change in policy. Our cleaning crew sometimes has a few extra wrappers to pick up. One of our ponderous reading tables has been graced with a ghostly coffee mug ring caused evidently not by liquid but by heat. (Shroud of Turin scholars are welcome to stop by to see if they can duplicate the process.) The occasional coffee or cola splort on the carpet doesn't happen any more often now than it used to before we instituted the new policy. I haven't worried about the exposure of books to food, as that is what happens anyway when the books are checked out, though common courtesy should keep one from turning the pages with the same fingers that have been holding the Cheeto. (Sort of a Name-of-the-Rose effect in reverse.)

We have even gone so far as to offer food as a way to lure students into the library. We do not have the space or finances to set up a library café, but we do provide beverages and study snacks every quarter the week before finals. I used to have to cover over the "No Food Allowed" signs during our study break weeks, but now we can serve food out in the open without creating confusion over the library policy. Provided we don't include a keg.


Eric said...

Our concern for food at our library has never been about the condition of books--ketchup stains, coffee rings, or the like. It has been about food debris attracting insects. I recall a vivid demonstration of the issue one day when I was instructing a church history class in the main reading room, and suddenly realized the student immediately in front of me was munching on a late breakfast. I asked him not to, but not five minutes after we were done, as I was picking up and putting away reference materials, I espied a 2" cockroach munching on the crumbs he had dropped onto the floor.

Blake Walter said...

True -- library critters can be a problem, particularly if invited in by food. In one library where I worked, though, the worst area for ants was not the study area, but the library staff kitchen. Hmmm -- perhaps I should consider a follow-up posting about the condition of library staff microwaves.